Justinian I was the Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. He was one of the most powerful emperors to have ruled over the Byzantine Empire and during his reign, the Empire reached the peak of its power and prestige.
Justinian launched a vigorous campaign to restore the lost territories of the now-fallen Western Roman Empire. He was successful in annexing most of these territories to the Byzantine Empire.
During his reign, the Byzantine Empire underwent a brief renaissance leading to such architectural marvels as Hagia Sophia. He also laid the foundations for the absolutely imperial authority of the Byzantine Emperor over ecclesiastical affairs.
Conquest of Italy
As part of his policy to restore former glory to the Byzantine Empire, Justinian sought to bring back lost Roman territories under his Empire’s rule. To this end, Byzantine general Belisarius launched an invasion of Italy in 535. He took Sicily and then advanced to take Naples and Rome as well.
By 540, Belisarius had taken the capital of the Ostrogoth kingdom in Italy, the city of Ravenna. Ostrogoths continued to mount fierce resistance to Byzantine invasion and by 542, vast portions of southern Italy were back in Ostrogoth control.
Justinian finally launched a large army in 552 which was able to decisively defeat the Ostrogoths and permanently end their influence in Italy. With the conquest of Italy, Ravenna became the second capital of the Empire and a center of arts and architecture alongside Constantinople.
War with Sassanid Empire
Although Justinian was able to make significant expansions of his Empire towards the West, his eastern frontier remained insecure due to ongoing hostilities with the Persians.
Persian Warriors *Archers
In 531, Justinian managed to reach a peace treaty with the Sassanid Emperor but the peace was broken by the Persians in 540. The war between the two sides continued intermittently until 557 when hostilities stopped.
In 562, Byzantine Empire and the Sassanid Empire agreed to a Fifty Years’ Peace treaty in exchange for a yearly tribute of gold from the Byzantines.
Justinian I’s Religious Policies
Byzantine Empire had a longstanding tradition of an all-powerful Emperor by the time of Justinian. Justinian reinforced this by further strengthening the authority of the imperial crown through military conquests.
He also effectively brought the Eastern Orthodox Church under the absolute will and command of the Emperor. While he ceded numerous rights to the Church, such as imperial protection of monasteries and access to certain imperial taxes, he brought the right to appoint notable ecclesiastical officials into the hands of the Emperor.
Patron of Arts and Culture
During Justinian’s reign, the Byzantine Empire became prosperous and expanded significantly on all sides. This resulted in a cultural renaissance that promoted arts and learning in the Empire.
Many notable poets, historians, and architects of the Byzantine Empire lived during the Justinian era. Justinian also served as a patron of arts and culture.
He most notably commissioned many buildings which would come to define Byzantine architecture in subsequent decades. Most notable among these was the Church of Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Apostles, both constructed in Constantinople.